January 27th, 2004

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Argentine ants and other longings

Argentine ants fascinate me. They inhabit our eco-space today as familiars. The tiny ants march through many a kitchen. But Argentine ants number among the exotics. They arrived in New Orleans in the 1890s, after making the perilous passage by coffee boat from Brazil. I will skip the metaphor about how they displaced native populations, declared themselves the owners of all the land they surveyed, and decimated entire sections of the ecology here.

I find ant farms fascinating. The Uncle Milton Company, maker of fine plastic ant farm civilizations, provides harvester ants from the Antelope Valley in California to populate its ant farms. Harvester ants work better in ant farms than do Argentines. These ants set up burial chambers, farm grass seeds, and enjoy digging in the sandy soil. Argentines slip out the air holes, because they love their sandy digging soil, but not like they love their freedom.
Fire ants, too, slip out the holes in the ant farms. Fire ants tend to dislike those who aren't fire ants, as well, which reminds one that sometimes reality does indeed bite.

Today I'm ranging across a world of stray, largely irrelevant thoughts. I wonder how a little Republican state matters so much to the Democratic nomination process. I wonder if the Lubbock snow situation will abate before my trip there on Thursday. I think about the discovery of water on Mars, and hope someday that we find life there.

But the Argentine ants ignore the irrelevant stuff. They build nests, perform specialized tasks, and work hard. On the other hand, their social structure works on a basis I would find quite objectionable in my own life.

Aesop wrote of the grasshopper who fiddled while the ant stored up food for the winter. But myrmecophiles have their cake and eat it, too. Myrmecophiles are non-ants who enter into reciprocal arrangements with ants in which they obtain food from the ants by deceit or by providing a desired service to the ants. The Argentine ants interact with aphids and other honeydew producing critters.

This morning I found great microscope pictures of ants at www.denniskunkel.com. That site also has great photos of protozoa, algae and other things worth of great photos. I might have been a scientist, I think sometimes, but for the lack of any talent for science or math.
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14:59, 14:58....

The nice reporter from the Dallas Morning News tells me I can post this to my weblog. In order to save folks having to "click through" a registration link at the Dallas Morning News site, here's the article that appeared in Sunday's paper about my chess tournament:

No-frills tournament just cuts to the chess

In close competition, winner takes home kazoo as grand prize

12:28 PM CST on Sunday, January 25, 2004
By TIARA M. ELLIS / The Dallas Morning News

PLANO – The slap of chess pieces being moved and the repeated click of a clock timer were the only sounds punctuating the silence that hung over the four players at a Plano chess tournament Saturday. Each man concentrated on his moves in the pursuit of the day's prize – a kazoo.

Robert Nunnally organized the Kazoo Quad Quick Chess Tournament at the Plano Centre to add fun to the game and bring a chess tournament to Collin County.

"I just got tired of running all the way to Dallas for a tournament and spending the whole weekend playing," said Mr. Nunnally, 44, of Allen. "This way, we play for a few hours just for some fun. And the kazoo shows that this is as much for fun as it is for competition."

Cai Schmidt said he comes from the Bobby Fischer era in the 1970s when the game grew in popularity. At one point, he was playing in at least one weekend tournament a month, with games lasting all day. In one case, a game stretched eight hours with more than 120 moves, the Plano resident said.

Now, his back can't hold up to those kinds of games and Mr. Schmidt, 47, prefers playing short, quick tournaments. Saturday morning, he played six rounds of blitz, or five-minute, timed chess, in less than two hours.

Wolfgang Kern, 40, joined the free-play tournament Saturday afternoon for a few quick games. He and his wife recently had their first child, so getting out of their Allen home for chess tournaments isn't possible if they are daylong affairs.

"I have to get the kitchen pass from my wife to go play, but it's fun. And driving [about] 3 miles here instead of 20 miles [to Dallas] is much easier," Mr. Kern said.

Although only four people participated in the morning and afternoon tournaments, Mr. Nunnally said he plans to do it again. But next time, he said, he'll offer cash prizes to draw crowds.

"This is just a start. They say, 'If you build it, they will come.' Well, they don't always come. I guess I'm the only one who would play just for a kazoo," Mr. Nunnally said. "But I'm hoping that this is just a start and as the word gets out, more people will come play."

Copyright 2004, Dallas Morning News